December 17, 2008
Making movies on location

News item: Governor Perry is among those pushing to spend more money to bring filmmakers to Texas.

Perry is proposing making $40 million available in the coming two-year state budget to improve incentives for productions in Texas. He plans to throw his support behind a film incentive bill once the Legislature convenes Jan. 13.


In Texas, feature film production spending was $25.6 million for fiscal year 2008, which ended in August, an improvement over the less than $1 million spent in 2007, the governor's office said.

But in 2006 it was nearly $59 million, and in the heyday of 2003-04 spending to make feature films in the state was nearly $95 million and $80 million, respectively.

Hair Balls has more on this. I'm basically agnostic on this question, but I do have two things to note. One is that despite the assertion of the Hair Balls entry, there is an opponent to this proposal. Texans for Public Justice has been shopping an op-ed that comes out against it, a copy of which is in my Inbox. I'm reproducing it beneath the fold for your perusal. Two, any time during this next session that Governor Perry says we don't have enough money to support some other proposed spending, I plan to bring this $40 million item up. As long as it's still viable, it won't be a matter of available funds but of spending priorities. Which, frankly, has always been the case with our Governor. This is just a nice clear example of that.

TPJ: Texas Taxpayers Can't Afford to Make Movies

By Lauren Reinlie, Texans for Public Justice

Imagine that you've got a big budget to film a documentary epic about contemporary Texas. The script contains inspirational stuff worthy of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum but also delves into Texas' No. 50 ranking in state spending on infrastructure, parks, healthcare and education. Interviewing people to put a human face on the Lone Star's dark side, the job suddenly becomes uncomfortable. You wonder why you feel responsible for these sick, hungry kids. Then it hits you. Once your film is shot, you will dun Texas taxpayers to pay 5 percent of your production costs. With so many human needs requiring state assistance, what entitles movie producers to cut to the front of the soup line? And why are film lobbyists in Austin demanding an even bigger handout?

Texas lawmakers first authorized subsidies for producers of films, television shows, TV ads and video games in 2007. Texas taxpayers now pay 5 percent of anything that qualifying production projects spend in the state. The Texas Film Commission has approved $10 million in subsidies to date, dedicating 60 percent of these funds to big-ticket feature films and TV programs. Nonetheless, three-fourths of the 160 projects that the state has approved for subsidies are to shoot TV commercials. In fact, more than 50 of the commercials subsidized by Texas taxpayers promote such corporate behemoths as AT&T, Bayer, Hyundai, Sony, Shell and Wal-Mart.

Re-igniting the Land Rush in 2001, Oklahoma was one of the first states to offer film subsidies, which at least 40 states now dole out. Subsidy fans say they create jobs, attract out-of-state investment and boost Texas tourism. But they also say that Texas' two-year-old program already is inadequate, spurring producers to chase bigger bounties in other states. In the legislative session that opens in January, the Texas film industry plans to press lawmakers to triple Texas' subsidies. Yet even if it agrees to pay 15 percent of a film's budget, Texas still won't be competitive. Massachusetts now offers 25 percent subsidies and recession-reeling Michigan pays 42 percent of film budgets.

Significantly, the fattest-subsidy states are experiencing buyer's remorse. Some estimates project that Michigan's record film subsidies may cost $200 million a year. The Massachusetts Revenue Department recently estimated that for every tax dollar given to producers the state recoups no more than 23 cents. Texas cannot afford to compete in the race to give producers the most tax dollars with the fewest safeguards. Rather than woo producers who roam the globe in search of the biggest taxpayer handouts, Texas should invest in social programs that help the millions of Texans who have a greater claim to this state's meager assistance.

(Texans for Public Justice has released an in-depth report on taxpayer film subsidies, which is available at our Watch Your Assets page at

Reinlie is director of the Watch Your Assets Project at Texans for Public Justice.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 17, 2008 to The great state of Texas

Come on Kuff, you just arn't happy unless you're complaining about something the governor has done...or is in the process of doing. Austin is the live music capital of the world and a lot of what makes Texas great is the thriving arts community. However, there has been a steady decline of out of state money coming to Texas via the movie industry. So as much as you want to gripe about how this is taking funds from other areas, you're missing the point that it's actually going to result in more funds for the state from a relatively small investment. Perry is doing the right thing again and is showing why Texas has been able to build economic steam over all these years.

Posted by: Gladiator on December 17, 2008 4:15 PM

I don't know the details (and costs) of the proposal, but I really like the idea of turning the Astrodome into a movie studio. I think that a kick-ass infrastructure like that one--if done right--would probably be as attractive to the entertainment industry as subsidies. I've heard that the Astrodome sustained a lot of damage in Ike, but I don't know to what extent and whether it was stuff that needed to be renovated in any instance.

Posted by: 'stina on December 17, 2008 4:41 PM
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